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SPRI Review 1998: Social Sciences and Russian Studies Group

Social Sciences and Russian Studies Group

Dr P. Vitebsky

T. Argounova, M. Core, P. Fryer, O. Habeck, I. Nobl-Øverland, S. Sawhill, B. Seligman, S. van Vactor, E. Wilson K. Hill, L. Lar, Dr J. Tichotsky, S. Alekseyeva, G. Belolyubskiy, G. Robbek, G. Tagg-Randall

The Social Science and Russian Studies Group's work has clustered around a number of themes in anthropology, ethnic relations, religion, psychology, economics, and resource development. The theme of environmental change has permeated much of the group's work, and, in addition to purely Social Science approaches, there has developed a close collaboration in some projects with the Remote Sensing Group. Long-standing links were reinforced with the hosting at the Institute of three placement students in anthropology from Yakutsk State University. The group's expertise in Siberia was acknowledged with the Gilchrist Expedition Award for 1998-1999. This award, given every two years by the Gilchrist Educational Trust in association with the Royal Geographic Society, will allow several researchers to work together with local colleagues in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) to produce a synchronic snapshot of contemporary changes from the perspective of several disciplines simultaneously.

Dr Piers Vitebsky concentrated his research on religious, social, and environmental change in the Sakha Republic, as well as its wider global implications. He continued to study the region's complex pluralistic ideological situation and the relationship between emerging forms of religion and regional politics, in particular the commoditisation of indigenous knowledge as a strategy on the national and international stage. He also continued to work with Sally Wolfe in studying the relationship between western forms of psychotherapy and indigenous models of healing in the context of rural-urban migration and the demand for mental health services. Dr Vitebsky accompanied the shaman Yarjung Tamu from the Nepal Himalayas to a conference of traditional healers in Yakutsk in northeast Siberia, where they both carried out comparative studies of shamanic traditions and related these to theories of ethnic migration. They presented their findings to local specialists both in Yakutsk and in Nepal. Dr Vitebsky also presented his findings at several conferences and symposia in New York, as well as at the Harvard Divinity School. Together with Tatiana Argounova (Research Student), he contributed to a series of BBC Radio 3 programmes on Siberian indigenous music. He also reviewed the social impact portion of the draft environmental impact assessment for an oil development on northern Sakhalin.

Dr Vitebsky studied the rise and fall of the clan community (rodovaya obschina) surrounding the break-up of the state farm. In particular, he explored the forms of social organisation and self-help that are emerging with the decline of state-organised social and economic frameworks in remote communities. He studied the impact on these communities of the virtual disappearance of air transport. This has made it impossible to market reindeer meat, their main produce, and is making it difficult for young people to travel between villages and to continue previous marriage patterns. Keith Hill (Associate) conducted research on the integrated communication needs of the Russian Far East, concentrating in particular on minor aviation and telecommunications. He negotiated an agreement between the Institute and the College of Aeronautics, Cranfield University, on a joint programme for the study of minor aviation and its role in the present and future development of the economy of the Russian Far East and north. The agreement covers transport economics, comparative international practice in operations and techniques, management of both aircraft and ground-based resources, traffic creation and demand profiling, and integration of existing data on the Russian Far East and the Russian north. Hill attended a course in aviation fleet management at Cranfield.

With Dr Gareth Rees of the Remote Sensing Group, Dr Vitebsky co-directed a new project under the EU-funded Barents Region programme (BASIS). This study of climatic and vegetation change aims to integrate the often disparate discourses of indigenous and scientific knowledge about the environment, by focusing on the various kinds of available evidence for climatic and vegetation change in the Nenets Autonomous District around Naryan-Mar. Among other techniques, they are using the indigenous knowledge of native reindeer herders as a form of ground-truthing for satellite imagery. For this, Dr Anatoly Alekseyev (Yakutsk University) and Leonid Lar (Tolbolsk Pedagogical Institute), both reindeer herders turned anthropologist, visited Cambridge for a briefing that was also attended by Dr Johnny-Leo Jernsletten (Ludviksen) from the Centre for Sami Studies in Tromsø.

Dr Alekseyev and Lar then conducted further fieldwork in the area. They made observations of vegetation cover and collated this with herders' own expert judgements about changes in time and space. They concluded that the summer pastures are in a dangerous state of overgrazing, and the team will now work with satellite imagery to reconstruct a time-line, in scientific terms, of the process leading up to this situation.

Under this programme Dr Vitebsky, Dr Alekseyev, and Indra Nobl-Øverland (Research Student) attended the workshop on integrated impact assessment of global changes in the Barents region at the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, St Petersburg, where Dr Vitebsky was an invited speaker and co-chair of the social science section.

Dr Vitebsky continued to serve as a staff member of the Mongolian Studies Unit, as advisor to graduate students from the Department of Social Anthropology, and as external examiner for the MA in Social Anthropology and the MA in Medical Anthropology at the school of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London. He supervised the PhD work of three placement students from Yakutsk University, and served as secretary to the International Advisory Board of the Department of Ethnology at the European University of St. Petersburg, where he also lectured. He also lectured at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Dr Vitebsky gave a public lecture at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and read a paper at a conference to celebrate the centenary of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition, which provided the baseline for the study of the peoples of that region. Also in New York, he was an invited speaker and panel member at a conference on trauma and dissociation at the William Alanson White Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis. He read a paper at a conference on indigenous religions and ecology at the Harvard Divinity School and attended the annual convention of the American Psychoanalytic Society.

Elsewhere, he read a seminar paper in the Department of Archaeology, University of Bradford; at the 'Conference on indigenous healing traditions' at the Institute of Comparative Medicine in Yakutsk; and at the conference on 'Shamanism in contemporary society,' University of Newcastle. He also spoke at the Tamu Cultural Association in Pokhara, Nepal, and attended a meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, for preliminary planning of an international project to commemorate the work of V. Stefansson.

Otto Habeck (Research Student) studied related issues in the Usa Basin in the nearby region of the northern Komi Republic, working in Kharuta, Abez', Petrun', Rogovaya, Inta, and Syktyvkar. This research is part of the EU-funded TUNDRA project, in association with the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester, and aims to assess differences in indigenous and immigrant perceptions of climate change. Habeck is finding that the concepts of 'indigenous' and 'immigrant' represent two poles on a spectrum of possible lifestyles involving different combinations of rural and urban, and traditional and modern, elements. Supporting some of the conclusions of the recent ESRC-funded project in Chukotka, at the other end of the Russian north, he found that people's ways of perceiving the environment change as a result of changes in the patterns of their practical activity, so that the perception of the environment can change fundamentally even within the space of a single generation.

Many political problems of the environment span international frontiers. Steven Sawhill (Research Student) was awarded a fellowship by the American-Scandinavian Foundation and spent the year in Norway as a guest of the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Lysaker and the Barents Secretariat in Kirkenes. He conducted research on Norwegian-Russian environmental politics, in particular on ways in which local organisations can cooperate across the border. He was also funded by the Swedish Agency for Civil Emergency Planning to take part in a programme on Risks and Nuclear Waste research coordinated by Umeå University, to study the political problems associated with developing effective multilateral efforts to address defence-related nuclear waste threats in northwest Russia. Sawhill participated in the 3rd annual Arctic PhD network program sponsored by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The two-week summer program involved 24 doctoral students drawn from the eight Arctic states, Britain, and France. This year's program expored security issues and social conflicts in the European Arctic and included visits to Murmansk, Svalbard, and Norway's northern counties.

Emma Wilson (Research Student) continued to study the impact of foreign non-governmental organisations and multinational corporations on Sakhalin and Kamchatka in the Russian Far East, and the scope for local opinion to influence policy. With the Kamchatka Institute of Ecology and Nature Management, she co-led a multi-disciplinary expedition of anthropologists, economists, and botanists to Bystrinsky Nature Park, Kamchatka, to conduct an integrated land-use appraisal. The research team reported in Russian to local communities. She also prepared an updated 'Sakhalin development watch' for Friends of the Earth International for the Kyoto Climate Change conference.  Wilson presented a paper at the British Association of Slavonic and East European Studies conference entitled 'Hotspots of the Russian Far East. Foreign intervention: a sustainable development opportunity or neo-imperialist expansionism.' The conference was held at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, in May 1998. In June, she attended a conference on 'Participation in natural resource management,' held at Mansfield College, Oxford. She also attended a seminar on Russia and the surrounding regions, held at Birmingham University.

Ben Seligman (Research Student) continued research on the complex interweaving of technical, managerial, and social factors that influence the reliability of gas pipelines in the west Siberian north of Russia. He worked with Dr N.N. Khrenov of the Gubkin State Oil and Gas Academy, Moscow, visited the Earth Cyrosphere Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, and carried out fieldwork in the Urengoy and Yamburg gas-condensate fields in the Yamalo-Nenetskiy Autonomous District. Seligman presented a paper on 'Gas-pipeline route options from Russia and central Asia to northeast Asian markets' for the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy.

Sam van Vactor (Research Student) and Dr John Tichotsky (Associate) conducted research on the development of natural gas pipelines from eastern Russia to China, Korea, and Japan in the light of their projected demand for natural gas from this region. The potential energy demand of these east Asian countries holds the key to the future development of the Russian northeast. Van Vactor also studied issues related to industry structure and the regulation of natural monopolies and presented his findings at a number of conferences and meetings in the USA, Canada, Korea, and Mongolia. Van Vactor organized the conference on 'Development of Russian Far East oil and gas resouces: opportunities for US industry,' for a subcommittee) of the Business Development Committee of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission. The conference was held 25-26 October 1997, in Portland, Oregon. He presented a paper on 'Northeast Asian energy development in global perspective,' co-authored with Professor Arlon Tussing and Dr John Tichotsky.

In November van Vactor participated in a roundtable on 'The role of gas in interfuel competition for electric power in the Asia Pacific,' which was sponsored by the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council, Energy Forum, and Korean Energy Economics Insitute in Seoul, Korea. Immediately following this meeting, van Vactor was a speaker at the 'Third international conference on northeast Asian natural gas pipelines,' which was also held in Seoul. Van Vactor's topic was the demand for gas in northeast Asia. In May 1998, he served as a delegate to the APEC 'Workshop on natural gas development' in Calgary, and in August was a presenter, along with Professor Tussing, on gas development policy issues at the 'Fourth annual international conference on Asian natural gas pipelines,' which was held in Ulannbaatar, Mongolia, and was also attended by Dr Tichotsky.

Dr Tichotsky also continued his studies of the regional economy of the Russian northeast and completed a book manuscript on the diamond economy of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia). He was appointed senior analyst at Fitch IBCA International Rating Agency in the City of London, with special responsibility for rating regions of the former Soviet Union for international loans. He visited and rated the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), Kaliningrad, Rostov-on-Don, Szczechen (Poland), Bishkek (Kyrgyzia), Moscow, Moscow Oblast, St Petersburg, and Belgorod, as well as the North Slope Borough in Alaska. This was a particularly delicate task during the period surrounding the Russian economic crash of August 1998, and he was subsequently promoted to associate director of the company.

Along with Mary Core (Research Student), he spent one month in Barrow, working with the native delegation from Chukotka on their joint project with the North Slope Borough on the observation of marine mammals. They also assisted in securing whale quotes for an aboriginal subsistence hunt for Alaskan Inuit, Russian Chukchi and Inuit, and Makah Indians of Washington State at the meetings of the International Whaling Commission in Monaco and Bournemouth. Mary Core also conducted extensive oral history interviews among native whaling captains and others in Barrow, while the Association of Marine Mammal Hunters of Chukotka opened a UK office at SPRI. Core attended conferences on subsistence use and harvest management at the Institute of Social and Economic Research and the University of Alaska Anchorage. She also attended the meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Association.

Other members of the group studied ethnic identity. Paul Fryer (Research Student) continued work on elites, language, and education in the process of ethnic revival among the Komi of northwest Russia, where he has developed criteria for distinguishing political elites from cultural elites and has correrelated these with emerging patterns of language use. At the end of the year he took up a research fellowship in the Department of Social Policy at the University of Helsinki, where he will broaden the focus of his research to encompass other Finno-Ugrian peoples of Russia.

Indra Nobl-Øverland spent a further year among the Russian Sami, studying the relationship between the Sami nationalist organisations in the urban areas and the ethnicity of the Sami in the rural areas. He carried out fieldwork in the village of Lovozero, the largest Russian Sami settlement, and in Murmansk, the main city on the Kola Peninsula and the seat of the Sami nationalist organisations. In addition, he worked in other parts of the Russian Sami community, most importantly Revda, Loparskiy, Krasnoshchelye, Kanevka, and Sosnovka, in which he studied both salmon fishing in the estuary and reindeer hunting in the tundra, where he travelled with Sami reindeer herders from two brigades of the 'Tundra' State farm. He also participated in the meeting of the Nordic Sami Council in Apatity and visited Russian Sami youth studying at the Institute of Northern Peoples in St Petersburg and in the Norwegian Sami settlements of Karasjok and Kautokeino. He also visited Johnny-Leo Jernsletten (Ludviksen) in Tromsø, the vocational school in Inari, Finland, and the Arctic Institute and the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi. Nobl-Øverland's work has revealed a divide between the rural Sami engaged in traditional livelihoods and the urban Sami engaged in the nationalist organisations. He also found that while the Nordic Sami provide important opportunities for Russian Sami to go to the west and increase their sense of Sami identity, this generally does not increase the probability of a revival of the Russian Sami dialects or support the development of traditional livelihoods. Nobl-Øverland attended the Sami Summer Games in Loparskiy, held in late October, 1997, and the following February attended a BASIS climate change conference in St Petersburg. He attended the (Nordic) SamiCouncil meeting in Apatity, northwest Russia, in March.

Tatiana Argounova (Research Student) continued her research on ethnic identity and nationalism in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). In distinction to the essentialist approach of Soviet political science, she is developing a locally appropriate model of nationalism not as a stable rigid concept, but as an evolving and changeable process. A close study of the way in which the cultural particularities of the outlying Tatta District have fed in to a homogenised Sakha identity at the centre has allowed her to demonstrate that nationalism can take different forms, and that, according to political or social circumstances, this can take a more cultural, linguistic, or economic form. She has thus been able to show why democratisation has allowed mineral resources to start playing a major role in relations between Yakutsk and the federal centre of Moscow. Part of her fieldwork in Tatta District was conducted jointly with visiting scholar Dr Julia Cruikshank of the University of British Columbia. They studied oral history, memory, and the role of museums and local monuments in the development of ethnic identity.

Together with Dr Cruikshank, Argounova presented a paper titled 'Reinscribing meanings: oral traditions, material culture and national identity in the Republic of Sahka, Siberia, and the Yukon Territory, Canada,' at an International Arctic Social Sciences Association Conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark, last May. Argounova also delivered a number of lectures on ethnic identity, revival processes, federalism and regionalism at various venues, including the Britain/Russia Centre, RAF Henlow, British Petroleum in London, and was interviewed on a BBC Radio 3 program on Siberian Music.

Sardana Alekseyeva, Grigory Belolyubov, and Gavriil Robbek spent six months in SPRI as placement research students from Yakutsk State University under Dr Vitebsky's supervision. They studied marriage practices, the evolution of indigenous transport techniques, and traditional sports and games, respectively.

Seona Anderson (Affiliated Research Student) began fieldwork on the use of plants by indigenous peoples around the Amur River. She worked with colleagues at the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography in Vladivostok and carried out ethnobotanical and archaeobotanical fieldwork among the Udege, Nanai, and other indigenous peoples in the Khasanskiy, Olginsky, and Pazharsky districts of Primorskiy and Khabarovskiy regions.